Microsoft is set to acquire behavioral microtargeting and “marketing automation” specialist YaData. YaData’s software helps identify “behavioral micro-segments” [thats our behaviors, btw]. As YaData explains, “[M]icro-segments may overlap, reflecting the true multi-dimensional nature of customers and their changing habits. The continuous dynamic discovery and management of focused micro-segments allows marketers to understand and act upon changing market trends and gain rapid results for a real competitive differentiator. In order to act upon these changes, it is vital that marketers be able to routinely and autonomously launch the discovery process and manage the entire segment lifecycle…” [the managing, we presume, is of people’s behaviors and attitudes].

“YaData fully believes in the potential of behavioral targeting to enhance the value of online advertising for publishers, advertisers and users,” said Amir Peleg” in the press release announcing the sale. Microsoft officials claimed that as YaData’s technology became part of the company’s “advertising platform” they would “continue to adhere to its high standards for the protection of consumer privacy.” As Microsoft moves closer to acquiring Yahoo!, privacy advocates will need to analyze how the company’s recent acquisitions and developments related to online advertising require real safeguards–not just a reflexive we-care-about-privacy approach.

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David Cohen and Brian Roberts need to be sent to reform school. That’s public interest and media reform, although Comcast’s arrogant behavior regarding bandwidth throttling and seat-grabbing at public hearings suggests that Cohen and Roberts deserve to be sent up the lack of corporate responsibility river. But Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, long a Comcast favorite and Cohen’s former boss, would probably pardon them.

Comcast shareholders should be alarmed. At a time when cable’s future growth has never faced more challenges, the company’s leaders are engaged in a reckless attempt to shore up market share and suppress free speech. Such behavior discredits the company, including its board (Rockefeller Foundation head Judith Rodin serves on the board, btw). Comcast owes the country an apology for its actions. If it engages in a `we’re a big powerful monopoly and can do what we want’ attitude, it will become the poster child of a media company that most users, especially youth, will loath. Shareholders, the press, and advocates need to bring real reform to Comcast, before it becomes the brand we love to hate–and bypass.

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The departure of Deborah Platt Majoras should mark the closing of the special-interest revolving door at the FTC

Deborah Platt Majoras came to the FTC as a corporate lawyer who had represented Chevron Texaco while at the Jones Day law firm. Under her watch, the FTC failed to make any real advances protecting consumer privacy, ensure an open Internet (network neutrality), and promote competition and diversity in the key online marketing sector (Google/DoubleClick, for example).

The FTC should have a chairman and commissioners whose background indicates a strong commitment to consumer protection. They have to be willing to take on the powerful special interests, much of which will be from the big business sector. We need to stop business as usual, where yesterday you were a top corporate lawyer–then you are at the FTC–and soon, back in a well-compensated corporate boardroom. In Deborah Platt Majoras’s case, she is to be a top counsel for the Procter and Gamble company, according to press reports (her former law firm Jones Day has represented P&G, btw). The next administration must appoint officials to the FTC–and the FCC–who are in the orbit of the special interests. The cozy K Street golden revolving door should be sealed shut. If the country is to tackle the problems facing it, it requires consumer champions and business visionaries who understand what is at stake.

I would be remiss if I also didn’t remind readers that my group and the Electronic Privacy Information Center asked Chairman Majoras to recuse herself on the Google/DoubleClick merger, once we discovered that her husband’s law firm Jones Day represented one of the parties. She refused, and groups have asked the FTC to turn over documents related to the case. We intend to pursue this, of course, despite her departure. But the real point is that we need officials at the FTC who have demonstrated through their previous work and intellectual perspectives that they represent the concerns of average Americans—not multi-billion dollar law firms, Fortune 1000 corporations, or well-connected trade associations. In the 21st Century, anti-trust and consumer protection plays a crucial role in the operation of the digital marketplace. That alone is reason enough to make who becomes a FTC commissioner an important public policy issue for those who care about serious reform.

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Murdoch’s MySpace uses behavioral targeting to harvest data of its users, including when they are having a baby or going off to college

From the mouths of data collecting social network executives, via Online Media Daily:

“…Heidi Browning, the senior vice president of client solutions for Fox Interactive Media, cited some impressive results from behavioral targeting using data from MySpace–including a 733% lift in brand awareness, 800% lift in recall, 152% increase in brand favorability, and 179% increase in purchase intent.

She added that social networks like MySpace are ideal places to harvest data for behavioral targeting because consumers voluntarily provide detailed information about a host of behaviors and attitudes–including, for example, media consumption and brand preferences as well as simple demographic descriptors, age, education, and geographic location. From these, Fox assembled a number of enthusiast and lifestyle segments, broadly grouped in 10 super-segments, with at least 3 million and as many as 10 million members each.

According to Browning, MySpace data can tell marketers when a user “is moving, having a baby, going to college”–but also more subtle information including receptivity to ad messaging at different times of day. With other data sources, like DVR records, she said MySpace information will allow “hyper-targeting” of consumers, delivering the right kind of ad message via the right medium at the right time of day.”

source: “Behavioral Targeting: A Brave New World… Maybe.” Erik Sass. Online Media Daily. Feb. 26, 2008 [reg required]

Time Warner’s `Platform A’ Data Collection System: 3 billion online ads a day bolstered by $1 B in online ad company acquisitions

Time Warner has been buying up online ad properties to bolster its AOL and subsidiaries. AOL exec Randy Falco, as reported in Advertising Age [Feb. 26, 2008, sub. required likely] told interactive marketers that “[W]e have Platform A, the largest ad network in the world.” Falco said that 3 billion ad impressions were being delivered daily by the AOL networks. He also said that “[W]e spent with the help of Time Warner about a billion dollars to acquire [Quigo, Tacoda, Third Screen Media and AdTech] over the past year.”

Google positioned to offer behavioral targeted ads, boosted by

Via JP Morgan’s “Nothing But Net” January 2008 report:

“As the leader in search market share, Google has much information about user preferences for hosting behaviorally targeted ads…With the pending acquisition of DoubleClick, Google gains ownership of two key technologies:
* the DART suite: a comprehensive set of technologies that enable advertisers to effectively manage their online advertising campaigns while providing publishers with the ability to dynamically place ads on their sites.
* the DoubleClick Advertising Exchange: a platform for buyers to gain immediate access to inventory… DoubleClick has relationships with both publishers and advertisers that enable it to serve hundreds of billions of ad impressions per year. In 2004 (the most recent fullyear data available), DoubleClick served over 800 billion online ad impressions (we expect it will serve ~2 trillion impressions in F’07).”

IAB’s new “Privacy Principles”=A Failure to Protect Consumer Privacy

The IAB has embraced a `circle the data collection and micro-targeting digital wagon’s’ with its new privacy principles. Instead of embracing a policy that truly protects consumer privacy, IAB members are trying to hide behind the same failed approach they have led to governmental inquiries in the US and the EU. The IAB should have adopted rules so that no data can be collected without full disclosure and prior consent of the consumer, as well as other fair information collection principles. The IAB’s proposed new PR campaign to promote the role of interactive marketing will undoubtedly by slick–but won’t be honest. That’s why my CDD will keep telling the FTC, the EU and the public about what really goes on with data collection and digital marketing. These slightly refurbished fox-watching-the-data-hen-house-privacy principles won’t provide any substantive protections for consumers. The failure of the IAB to acknowledge key issues related to sensitive data–including children, teens, financial (think subprime mortgage-related) and health–is a glaring failure of the group’s ability to do what is required to protect consumer privacy.

The IAB is trying to help its members dodge the digital privacy data bullet. But privacy advocates and officials concerned about consumer welfare in the digital age will eventually force the needed changes. What’s sad is that instead of playing a leadership role in the privacy debate, the IAB is attempting to stick with the past. Don’t they realize that change is coming?

In response to growing global criticism about Google’s corporate inability to adopt 21st Century privacy protections for its many users, the company attempts to hide behind so-called “technical” postings from its staff. For example, Alma Whitten’s Feb. 22, 2008 post entitled “Are IP addresses personal” is part of Google’s campaign to counter recent moves by European Union privacy officials to have search engines using IP addresses to come under the safeguards of the European Data Directive. The Article 29 Working Party issued the following statement last week: “Search engines fall under the EU data protection directive if there are controllers collecting users’ IP addresses or search history information, and therefore have to comply with relevant provisions.”

Google shouldn’t be asking Ms. Whitten to defend the company’s business practices. They should have someone who is willing to acknowledge that Google’s business model depends on the collection and use of a broad range of personally-related data. After all, Google is in the micro-targeting part of the advertising business–that where 99% of all its revenues come from. Its acquisition of cookie-tracking giant DoubleClick is all based on its plans to expand the company’s ability to collect user data for micro-targeting. Google’s recent moves on privacy haven’t been done because the company is benevolent: it’s being forced into this posture by pressure from regulators and privacy advocates. Every time Google isn’t candid about its operations, plans and its public policy implications, it damages the company’s reputation. Who at Google cares more about taking honest responsibility for its business practices, than resorting to a feeble attempt to distract the debate?

Candidates harness ad and data micro-targeting to help foster "anger points"

The role of data collection and interactive marketing needs to be thoroughly examined in relation to political campaigns, as it will contribute to the further manipulation of voters and the political process (an issue we track). This excerpt from this week’s New Yorker on John McCain’s campaign, via comments from his aide (and former VP Cheney staffer) Steve Schmidt, reflects what was going on back in 2004. Note the phrase “anger points,” and consider how the growing role of interactive data collection and behavioral targeting could be used to stroke the flames of irrationality [something both parties and others will use]. Schmidt said that while working for Pres. Bush’s re-election in 2004 [our emphasis] “we targeted voters not where they lived but how they lived their lives, in the same way that credit-card companies do.” He went on, “And so we know, for instance, that among independent voters there are life styles and behaviors that identify them as Republicans or Democrats. For example, the GMC Yukon is a Republican vehicle, and Volvos and Subarus are the most Democratic vehicles. Republicans have Fiji water preferences, versus Democrats, who have Evian water preferences. You have a huge grouping of consumer data, so you can micro-target messages to common groups, finding pleasure points and anger points on issues.”

From: On the Bus: Can John McCain Reinvent Republicanism? Ryan Lizza. New Yorker. Feb. 25, 2008.

Google Helps GOP Presidential Convention to Have "Wow" Factor

Google has been named the GOP’s “Official Innovation Provider” for the forthcoming 2008 Republican National Convention. It’s a huge ad for Google (and stealth campaign contribution to GOP). Take a look, via (natch) YouTube.